“My dear friends, I pray that you will remain strong and not be discouraged or ashamed by all that I suffer on your behalf, for it is for your glory.”
Ephesians 3:13 TPT

Why did Paul make this extraordinary statement? He made it after describing his part in the dissemination of God’s mysterious plan, at the end of a section of verses which he started by declaring his incarceration “for the sake of you Gentiles“. It was almost as though Paul briefly emerged from some wonderful place full of the love and grace of God, a place full of Heavenly thoughts and then cast his eyes around at his circumstances, and consequently had a bit of a “wobbly”. But then he realised why he was where he was – a prisoner “for the sake of you Gentiles“. In a dark, cold and filthy cell, miles from home in a foreign land. And as we read, he was suffering. We don’t know from what, but I can imagine he was cold (in 2 Timothy 4:13 he asked Timothy to bring his cloak when he visited next). He was uncomfortable. Probably hungry. I’m guessing, but one thing was for sure, he was suffering because while he was in prison he wasn’t out there on the road, preaching the Gospel “for the sake of you Gentiles“. 

But the least he could do while imprisoned was to write to his friends back in Ephesus. We don’t know who was writing down what he said, though there are a few suggestions – a scribe called Tertius was mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans. But Paul never let grass grow under his feet. He never wasted a moment, always praying, writing or witnessing. In this verse, Paul couldn’t stop himself from being an encouragement. Most of us in similar circumstances would have wasted our ink in whingeing about our lot, complaining about the food, the cold, the …. But not Paul. He was so concerned about his friends that he forgot about himself. He encouraged them to be strong in their faith, not held back with feelings of guilt. Not to be discouraged because of his sufferings. What a selfless man Paul was.

But Paul said he suffered for the glory of his readers, the Ephesians. How come? How does being in prison glorify someone else? Perhaps it was because Paul felt he was suffering so that this group of believers could enter into God’s glory through their new-found faith. That thought must have been encouraging for him, helping him through the seemingly unending dark and cold days and nights in his prison cell. Perhaps he thought it was well worth the sacrifice he made. But one day we will hopefully have the opportunity to have a chat with Paul.

In our pilgrimage through life, we pray that we will never be imprisoned for our faith, as many are in other parts of the world. Our fellow pilgrims in countries such as North Korea and Afghanistan know what suffering for their faith is all about. How do we feel about that? Saddened? Angry? Perhaps even thinking thoughts like, “Why is God letting them suffer in this way”? But Jesus was clear – He warned His disciples in Matthew 10 about the cost of presenting a counter-cultural message to a hostile world. Paul was paying the price. And perhaps we do as well, in a lower-key way. Through whispered comments in our work places. Losing our jobs, perhaps, as some have for wearing a cross. Through a lack of acceptance into certain social circles. Being ostracised by our neighbours. But whatever God has asked us to do in our service for Him, we know that He will never leave us, never stop loving us. I’m sure Paul heard Jesus say, “Well done”, when he entered Heaven. Something we too will hear, at the end of our life-journey, as we continue to do what Paul did, “for the sake of us Gentiles“. 

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